Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Is That A Fact? - Gun Statistics

The Sandy Hook school shootings started another wave of interest in gun control legislation in the United States. Naturally, there are people who oppose tighter gun regulation, and I understand their view point. That doesn't mean I'm going to give them any slack on abusing statitics, though. This image is a recent example from Facebook.


In 1996, there was a mass shooting incident in Australia. It triggered a wave of interest in gun control legislation much as Sandy Hook has done in America. In Australia's case, new gun regulations were passed and implemented in 1997. Anti-Gun-Control activists like to cite some damning (but unsubstantiated) statistics about the effects of those regulations.

What we get are reports like those in the image: lists of percentages with no explanation of where the data was obtained or how the statistics were calculated. A scientific paper would require that kind of information, as scientists expect to be able to check each others' work. A bunch of percentages in a vacuum tell us nothing.

Gun legislation in Australia has been more restrictive than in the USA for decades, and gun ownership rates there have likewise been lower for a long time. The 1997 laws placed new restrictions on semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. Gun violence in Australia was declining before the new rules were passed, and gun violence has continued to decline since. There are disputes over whether the new regulations made a difference, because there has not been a significant change in the rate of decline since their passage.

I don't expect the "assault weapons" ban to have a major impact on gun crime in the USA. According to FBI statistics, rifles of any kind are used in less than 6% of homicides in the USA (this figure includes homicides involving a firearm of unspecified type). The most prevalent weapons by far in homicides in this country are handguns, accounting for nearly half of all homicides.

I'm annoyed with people who share these kinds of statistics, since I'm pretty sure that they don't do even a small amount of fact-checking before they start spreading this kind of misinformation (otherwise, they wouldn't be spreading it). I'm downright angry at the people who initiate this kind of "viral" disinformation, because they are shamelessly lying to people about the effects of gun legislation on society.

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